It didn't take long for the drama to catch up with the hype.
So far, it hasn't been the kind of drama we might have feared in Los Angeles—Dwight Howard didn't kick off the preseason with any new trade demands. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant aren't chasing each other around for the ball. Everything in Laker-land is seemingly copacetic.
Yet distractions persist, and some easily avoidable ones at that.
Shaquille O'Neal instigated the first flare-up just days ago, and the Lakers themselves inexplicably gave life to the issue. First, Dwight Howard defended himself, ultimately lecturing O'Neal to, "Sit back and relax" (via the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan). Then Kobe piled on. Even Phil Jackson had his say.
Whatever happened to just saying "whatever"?
This time the drama is unprovoked, unless you consider Smush Parker's depressing sour grapes sufficient provocation.
This time, there's this (via The Orange County Register's Janis Carr):
“I almost won an MVP with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown on my team,” Bryant said before Wednesday’s 93-75 exhibition loss to Portland. “I was shooting 45 times a game. What was I supposed to do? Pass it to Chris Mihm or Kwame Brown.”
Bryant was referring to 2005-06 when the Lakers’ roster included Brian Cook, Stanislav Medvedenko, Devean George and Parker, Mihm and Brown.
Bryant continued, taking aim at his favorite whipping boy, Parker, calling him “the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard. So we let him walk on.”
With all the recent talk of retirement, we might want to dissuade Mr. Bryant from a post-basketball career in diplomacy. Something involving brutal honesty might be a better fit.
Here's the thing about what Kobe said: We all sort of agree. We've almost certainly said far worse at the water coolers. We can get away with it, too, because we're not Kobe Bryant.
The lowered expectations for ordinary people are refreshingly liberating.
We actually do care about what Bryant thinks, though.
If we believe the Lakers are indeed his team, then he's a spokesperson of sorts for them, the mouthpiece of an iconic organization. On that count, the comments are unbecoming—with the qualification that we'd have a really hard time not saying the exact same thing were we in Kobe's shoes, especially the fantastic Nike Zoom Kobe VIIs he wore to the 2012 All-Star Game.
The bigger concern isn't propriety. It's leadership.
Far be it from those of us who haven't won five championships to question Kobe's leadership (or even have opinions), but it's a relevant issue at the moment. Bryant's bad cop authoritarianism stands in stark contrast to Steve Nash's 21st century organizational sensibilities.
Kobe can walk into practice tomorrow and promise the other guys on the roster that he doesn't think the same kinds of things about them. He can tell Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Devin Ebanks that he really respects their games.
But can he do it with a straight face?
He won't have to worry about hurting the feelings of people he actually cares about—we all know Howard, Nash, World Peace and Gasol are in a different category altogether. Still, Kobe's most recent dirty laundry is a reminder of how sordid, albeit successful, his locker rooms have been over the years.
You'd need a lot of quarters to get through this kind of laundry.
There was 2007's secretly recorded outburst against the Lakers' decision making and a young Andrew Bynum, feuding with Shaquille O'Neal and even some feuding with Phil Jackson. As recently as the 2012 playoffs, Bryant called out Pau Gasol for not being aggressive enough.
Like so many savants, Kobe isn't always the easiest guy to get along with. Perhaps that's part of the charm.
Historically, the Lakers always find a way, but history is of little consolation when looking at this roster. It's as different and unpredictable as it is improved. There's no telling what will become of those intangible dynamics that separate the champions from the disappointments.
This much is sure, though. Los Angeles' self-assured superstars will need some help from those less-esteemed role players. It will need the kind of contributions Shane Battier and Mike Miller made for Miami, the sort Robert Horry or Derek Fisher once made in L.A.
It's not what Kobe thinks that matters after all—it's what they think of Kobe.